There’s a saying in Korean, Jong-Ryeol “Saebyeolbe” Park tells me, that translates to something like this: there are no bad people among animal lovers.
We were talking about how much he’s always loved animals. Back home, his family still has the chihuahua they got when Saebyeolbe was in high school. Now, the New York Excelsior DPS star has a Shiba Inu named BB, who joined him and his wife shortly after they landed stateside for the start of the Overwatch League inaugural season last year.
Saebyeolbe describes BB as “like my little daughter,” and anyone with a pet would recognize the endearment. They are family, they are our best friends and unconditional companions, and we treasure them—no matter how many pieces of furniture they ruin along the way—because they are a reflection of our basic humanity. To celebrate National Pet Day, I asked a few players about the good boys and girls in their lives, and I’m happy to say that I’ve found the one topic that unites all gamers everywhere.
For Los Angeles Valiant DPS Brady “Agilities” Girardi, an impromptu trip to the shelter with roommate Young-Seo “Kariv” Park one day last fall resulted in love at first sight with a gray tabby kitten that he later named Grim, after his former teammate and roommate who had just moved out.
“I was going to come back and decide [later], but I impulse-bought him all in one go,” Agilities said. “I had nothing ready, but I just liked him so much that I decided that I didn’t want to wait and didn’t want to risk him being [already] taken if I came back. I just liked the way he looked, and I liked his mannerisms. He just has a really good energy.”
It’s a similar story for Shanghai Dragons tank Young-Jin “Gamsu” Noh, who had always wanted to get a dog and finally seized on the opportunity earlier this year. “I looked on a rescue website and saw a bunch of dogs, but Uni was the cutest for me, so I chose Uni,” he said. “I also like hiking, so I was looking for a high-energy dog, and Uni was perfect.”
Uni’s adventures, whether hiking with Gamsu or playing around the Dragons team house, provide some of the most wholesome content in the Overwatch League community, thanks to his own Instagram page. Behind the scenes, though, raising a puppy requires diligence and a sense of responsibility—and takes up a lot of time.
“The first two months were hard,” he said. “I had to get up every morning at 6 a.m. to take him to pee and poo. These days, it’s the same, but Uni can hold it longer, so I can sleep. [Still], if I don’t take him out three times at least, he runs and bites everything in the house. I have to play with him always when I have time.”
Houston Outlaws support Shane “Rawkus” Flaherty, who has two large Siberian huskies named Sasha and Kitsune, can relate. “Having pets is quite difficult while working eight to ten hours a day, but with the help of dog walkers and my girlfriend we make sure they both get the time of day to go outside and not feel like they’re trapped inside,” he said.
The extra effort is worth it, though. “Sometimes you have bad days, but I can always come home and both of my pups are so excited to see me,” Rawkus added. “It’s like they haven’t seen me in months, and it just instantly brightens my day on even the worst days.”
Rawkus’ Outlaws teammate, main tank Austin “Muma” Wilmot, says that pets have always played an important role in his life. These days, it’s his boyfriend’s Shiba Inu, Ryosuke.
“I've struggled with depression and anxiety my entire life, but I've always had a pet by my side,” he said. “Sometimes when I have bad days and I just want to do nothing, just being with them helps tremendously. Lots of simple tasks and just being around people can be really draining, but that's never the case with dogs. If I ever have a bad day I can just lay on the couch or bed and Ryosuke will come curl up with me, and that makes everything a lot easier.”
There’s the simple, unwavering companionship that a pet provides, and then there’s the fact that animal content just instantly breaks the internet. They’re cute, people love talking about their pets, and they’re entertaining as heck while being imminently memeable.
“The way Grim does things is really cute,” Agilities gushed. “When I’m leaving, I take my backpack with me, and if I set it down, he’ll go into the backpack strap to stop me from leaving. Four hundred of my five hundred photos are probably just of my cat.” (So relatable.)
Bo, who came first, is “a friendly, anxious cat that is consistently just meowing around and chasing after Arya.” As for Arya, a new addition six months ago to keep Bo company while Custa was at work, is “a genius who is slowly stealing everything from my apartment and trying to break out. I’m beginning to think she’s using Bo as the muscle while she is the brains. They have currently broken out of my apartment three times; they have clawed out of my fly screen, and even with my best efforts to stop them they have bested me.”
According to Muma, Ryosuke has also picked up a new trick. “Something funny that he recently learned to do is open the bedroom and bathroom door,” he said. “He's really efficient at it and if you close the door without locking it, he can open it nearly instantaneously. Just the other day I was using the bathroom and he came up to the door, opened it, and joined me.”
All of the players I talked to grew up with some sort of animal presence in their lives. For Saebyeolbe, there was the family chihuahua. For Custa, there was Tilly, an outdoor cat that he paid special attention to, as well as dog named Summer in his teenage years. Agilities always had dogs growing up, and still sees them during vacations.
Rawkus recalls a precious memory about Sasha and her brother Ivan, who were his first pets, a present from his father who regularly had to travel out of state for work: “I was nine at the time, and I remember the night we got them—they both fit in this giant kennel we had, and I thought it’d be a good idea to put a giant fan pointing inside so they’d be cold, because they’re huskies and at the time we lived in Florida, which was hot. Then, me being my nine-year-old self, I joined them and got inside the kennel and fell asleep next to both of them.”
What’s the best part of having a pet? Everyone has a different answer, but there are universal truths. The way they’re always there to listen. Their curiosity about the world they inhabit. Their familiarity and constant nature. Their individual quirks and personalities.
“Pets love their owners, that’s the best part for me,” Gamsu offered. “Pets love owners, always.”
For Saebyeolbe, the joy of having a dog is in the small, everyday happinesses. The way BB jumps on him when he gets home from work. Exercising with BB. Her soft fur. The way her paws smell—wait, what?
“Have you tried smelling the bottom of their feet?” he asked excitedly. “It smells really good, like a nutty, earthy smell. When I see dogs, I like smelling the bottom of their feet. It’s not weird! A lot of people like that in Korea, maybe [other] people too.”
The best thing about owning a pet? Agilities sums it up simply: “It’s just super nice. There’s even science about it, like petting a dog for 15 minutes releases some sort of stress, it makes you happy. Always having pets in my life has made me happier because they’re always there, and they’re always loyal to you.”